What do you do when a girl is better than the boys?

At 12 years and over 6 feet tall, Jaime Nared is being barred from playing with her basketball team because, compared with her teammates, she's too good.

By Catherine Price
May 27, 2008 10:46PM (UTC)
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This weekend, I came across a couple of links to a story called "Banned for Being Too Good," about a 12-year-old girl named Jaime Nared who recently was forbidden from playing with her basketball team because she was kicking too much ass.

To be more specific, Nared, who's already over 6 feet tall, had been playing with a boys team after her coach and parents decided that she needed more of a challenge than she was getting from her all-female team. According to a video piece by ABC News, after a year or so of Nared averaging about 30 points per game, some parents complained. As a result, the Hoop -- the private league that organizes the team's games -- cited a rule that bars mixed-gender teams and said that Nared could no longer play with the boys.


It's an interesting question: Should someone be barred from playing on a team because they're too good? If Nared were a high school varsity player trying to join a middle school team, the answer would certainly be yes. If, for that matter, Nared were a guy who wanted to play with the girls, that, too, would probably be judged as unfair (even if the guy weren't all that much better than his female peers). But what about a 12-year-old girl who wants to play with 12-year-old boys? The knee-jerk reaction is, of course, that she should be allowed to play -- but that reaction relies on the underlying assumption that the boys team must be better, and that Nared is being discriminated against if she's not allowed to join it.

I think it's a bit more complicated than that, and it's unfortunate that this story is being reported as an issue of gender discrimination (and, for that matter, that the Hoop used gender as a way to bar Nared from playing with her team). In reality, the issue seems to be not that she's a girl, but that she's a foot taller -- and a lot better -- than her male teammates. If she were a guy, I would think that some parents would still complain about their 5-foot-4 sons playing in a league with a kid who's already over 6 feet tall.

Of course, you could also argue that Nared shouldn't be separated from her peers just because she's better than they are (mediocre teams don't tend to do too well) -- and that if you start kicking kids off teams for being too good, you start having to create a subjective standard of what the definition of "too good" is. After all, certain players will always be better -- or taller -- than others. As long as Nared is still being challenged by competitors and isn't single-handedly winning her team's games, the argument goes, why not let her finish the season? If and when the situation really seems unfair, encourage her to join a team with older, bigger players -- either male or female.


Regardless, if the parents and coaches decide that it is indeed unfair for Nared to continue to play with her team, I think it's important not to make it seem like gender is the underlying reason for her getting kicked off. Also, for what it's worth, it seems that Nared's teammates are not all opposed to the idea of having a tall, talented girl wear their uniform. As one of her teammates told ABC News, "Her greatness ... sprinkles off and goes onto us and it kind of makes us better as player[s], too." Isn't that what a team is supposed to be about?

Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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